Tag Archives: Books

Book Review: Moo by Sharon Creech

MooMoo by Sharon Creech
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The truth is, she was ornery and stubborn, wouldn’t listen to a n y b o d y, and selfish beyond selfish, and filthy, caked with mud and dust, and moody: you’d better watch it or she’d knock you flat.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Reena has always been a city girl, and she doesn’t know what to expect when her family moves to rural Maine. She certainly doesn’t expect, along with her seven-year-old brother, Luke, to be volunteered by their parents to help out a cranky elderly lady. Mrs. Falala lives alone, except for a pig, a cat, a parrot, a snake, and a cow. The cow is Zora, and Reena and Luke are tasked with grooming her for an upcoming fair.

Review: There are a few short chapters written in prose, but most of the book is in free verse and concrete poetry. This writing style, packed with sensory details, brings the reader well into Reena’s experience. Reena and Luke are believable city kids plunked down in an unfamiliar rural setting, and Reena’s thoughts and feelings will resonate especially with (sub)urban kids who are curious about life in the country. It’s a quiet book, focused more on emotions and personal growth than action. The poetic style and short chapters make it a faster read than it appears at first glance. There is a good deal of gentle humor, but be prepared for some realistic sad moments.

Personal Thoughts: I wanted to read the book based on some information given at a Book Buzz segment at an ALA Conference. By the time I got it, I mistook this book for another book that I also heard about at the same presentation, with left me a little bit confused for a chapter or three! But I was quickly engaged by Reena’s story. I grew up in the suburbs, and I clearly remember the first few times I encountered a real, live cow; Reena’s reactions rang true. I also loved the moment Reena and Luke realize where hamburgers come from, as well as the follow-up discussions with local boy Zep, their tutor in things livestock-showing-related, and with their parents. This would be a great choice for a parent-child book club.

Source: Borrowed from my public library.

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret

(This post is part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series.)

Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks' Secret (Amanda Lester, Detective #4)

Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What was Nick Moriarty, her ex-best friend, now her mortal enemy, doing in her bedroom? And why was that old red Formica table there, and that tiny oak cupboard, and that awful yellow beanbag chair?

Synopsis: Waking up on board the Moriarty family’s boat face-to-face with Nick – once her best friend and now her sworn enemy – is just one more confusing thing for Amanda Lester to cope with. The split between the factions of teachers at Legatum Continuatum sent half the instructors to Scotland to establish a new school, and the headmaster, several students, and Amanda’s cousins are missing. The acting headmaster is hiring new instructors, and Amanda’s mother is among the applicants. As if that’s not enough going on, her filmmaker idol is coming to England, her mother is dating a new guy, and her complicated feelings toward Scapulus Holmes are compounded by his relationship with her friend Amphora. Then there are the rare all-blue peacocks who have become mysteriously ill and an archaeological discovery that may turn the public against the detectives. Amanda and her friends have to keep a running list of the problems they need to solve!

Review: The fourth book in the series is packed with a lot of things happening at once. Background information is provided in the first few chapters, but it’s probably best not to jump into the series with this volume. The relationships between the characters take on great importance, whether they are bonds of family, friendship, or romance. The main characters all gain some development over the course of the novel. Ivy’s family plays a significant role in the story, providing details to round out her character. The perspective of the novel occasionally shifts away from Amanda, giving the reader a chance to glimpse what else is going on. The cliffhangers at the end of the book ensure that readers will be eager for the next installment! The Q&A section with the author in the back matter provides links to further information about the scientific facts that play a part in the story.

Personal Thoughts: Okay, I’m hooked. In my not-so-humble opinion, Berinstein’s writing gets better with each book, and I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle

(As part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series, Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret, this week I’m reviewing the second and third books as well as the new one.)

Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle (Amanda Lester, Detective, #3)

Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who would have thought a little twerp like David Wiffle could bring an entire detective school to its knees?

Synopsis: Things have gone from bad to worse at the secret detective school, Legatum Continuatum. David Wiffle has disappeared after apparently destroying the school’s most precious artifact. Editta Sweetgum is also missing, having run away with the Moriarty family after the showdown involving that artifact. And two other students are also missing, presumably with the Moriartys as well. The teachers are dividing into factions, lawsuits have been filed, and the entire school seems ready to fall apart. In some areas, it’s ready to literally fall apart, as earthquake damage is still under repair. Amanda’s family seems set to self-destruct, too, now that her father has taken off for Tibet. Then things get really weird, with rainbows appearing in the sky in the wrong color order, and zombies appearing in town.

Review: The third book of the series picks up right where the second left off, so some space in the first chapter is given over to recapping the events leading to this point. After that, events pick up pace, with Amanda and her friends tasked with solving a whole bunch of problems that the adults are unable to handle. The point of view remains in close third-person, so the reader gets a good idea of what Amanda thinks of things, though other characters sometimes act in seemingly inexplicable ways (simply because Amanda has no idea of the explanation). The interpersonal relations are realistically thorny, as the teenage characters cope with emotional and physical challenges. The story ends with some open questions readers will want to find the answers to in future installments of the series. Like the previous book, it has a Q&A section at the end with author that includes pointers to more information about some of the scientific curiosities that play a part in the action.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed this book more than the previous one. I feel there’s a bit of a Roald Dahl influence, especially in the larger-than-life characteristics of the adults versus the more realistically drawn young people.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis

(As part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series, Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret, this week I’m reviewing the second and third books as well as the new one.)

Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis (Amanda Lester, Detective Book 2)
Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Life was already weird enough at Legatum Continuatum, the secret school for descendants of famous detective, in England’s Lake District. After the events of the last few months, including her father’s kidnapping, two murders, a teacher’s disappearance, an explosions, and a criminal plot to corner the world’s sugar market, she was battered, fed up, and downright depressed, especially since one of the kidnappers had turned out to be the boy she thought was her best friend.

Synopsis: As classes resume at Legatum Continuatum after the Spring Holiday, Amanda and her friends are joined by a new student: Scapulus Holmes. Nearly everyone is impressed and/or intrigued by him, much to Amanda’s disgust. But she has other things on her mind, too, as she overhears the teachers panicking over a missing object, her filmmaking idol Darius Plover asks for her input on his new film, and one of her classmates is several days late returning from the break. And then there is an earthquake, causing extensive damage and revealing some unusual orange crystals and a skeleton. Amanda and Scapulus are going to have to find a way to work together to keep the crystals out of the hands of the Moriarty gang and maybe help the school recover the mysterious missing object.

Review: The second book in the Nancy-Drew-meets-Harry-Potter-minus-magic series picks up the loose ends from the first volume and weaves them right in to a new adventure. The characters are realistically flawed, and their interactions ring true to anyone who has spent time around tween and early teens. The cast of characters is diverse without feeling forced, which is refreshing. Less refreshing is the fat-shaming that occasionally pops up in the close third-person narration, which generally reads as Amanda’s internal voice. All of the characters are facing challenges and hiding secrets, sometimes putting them at odds with each other just when they need to come together, and sometimes making their character development uneven and unconvincing. Berinstein brings in some interesting scientific ideas, taking understandable artistic license, and includes pointers to more information in the Q&A section at the back of the book.

Personal Thoughts: I want to like this book more than I did. At one point, Amanda explains that, “Voiceovers are stupid. You’re telling rather than showing the audience what you want to get across.” That rather summed up one of my issues with the book, which is that too much is told flat-out in the narration rather than revealed through dialog or action. Still, I like the world and the characters too much to stop reading.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Up to This Pointe

Up to This Pointe
Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve been in Antarctica a total of eighty-three minutes, so I’m positive more exciting surprises will probably (hopefully) reveal themselves, but for now, the most intriguing thing about McMurdo, the American science station, is all the condoms.

Synopsis: At seventeen, Harper Scott is on the verge of achieving her lifelong dream. Since they were very small, she and her best friend, Kate, have been following The Plan. The Plan involves total dedication to ballet, and it culminates in both of them joining the San Francisco Ballet shortly after their early graduation from high school. But Harper doesn’t have Kate’s undeniable natural ability, so despite all the years of hard work, one audition might just crush her dreams. When things get suddenly and surprisingly complicated, Harper decides to follow her distant relative Robert Falcon Scott’s footsteps to Antarctica. She manages to land a highly coveted research assistant position for the six-month winter at McMurdo. No matter how far she goes, though, the problems she has to deal with come right along.

Review: This is a finely-crafted young adult novel, packed with descriptive details that bring life in San Francisco and Antarctica to life. The chapters alternate between Harper’s present, in Antarctica, and what happened back in San Francisco several months earlier. The sharp dichotomy between the first two chapters sets the tone for the book, as the reader knows where Harper ends up, but has no idea how she got there. Enough information about ballet is provided that readers without a background in dance can understand, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. Life at McMurdo, too, is explained through the eyes of a newcomer without any tedious “information dumps”. For reader who do want to know more, there is a short bibliography at the end, listing recommended books and films.

Personal Thoughts: I’ve long been fascinated by Antarctica, and I dearly hope to visit one day. (I found all but one of the books on Antarctica in the bibliography already in my to-read queue here at GoodReads.) I loved the glimpse into the life of those staying there long-term, rather than tourists. I kind of wish they hadn’t gone for the ballet pun in the title, but that’s really just me.

Recommend to: Fans of character-driven contemporary realistic fiction

Source: e-ARC courtesy of NetGalley

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Book Review: Roller Girl

Roller Girl
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


At first I couldn’t tell what was going on – just a bunch of skating, hitting, and falling.

Synopsis: Astrid and Nicole have been best friends since first grade, after an incident involving the class Mean Girl, Rachel. They do everything together. Astrid assumes this means that they’ll spend the summer following fifth grade together at Roller Derby Camp – Astrid’s newfound passion. She is stunned to discover that Nicole has other plans, namely, Dance Camp… with Rachel. With middle school looming and things changing all around her, Astrid rolls into the toughest summer of her life.

Review: A smart and funny realistic look at that stage so familiar to anyone who was once an almost-teenager, when friends start growing into their own people, and sometimes growing apart. Astrid speaks, thinks, and feels like a regular kid, someone you might know (or remember). She likes the way things are and doesn’t want them to change, but she ultimately faces those changes with good humor and strength. There are lessons in her story about growing up, accepting yourself and others for who they are, and working hard to achieve a dream, even when it doesn’t turn out quite the way you hoped, but it avoids didactic condescension easily. Totally charming.

Personal Thoughts: I happen to love roller skating, and I am a little sad that I didn’t encounter the whole roller derby phenomenon at an age/time/place when I might have joined in. I’ll just have to live vicariously through Astrid, I suppose. I loved everything about this book, from the painfully realistic depictions of the way pre-teen girls interact to the wonderful relationship between Astrid and her mother. (There’s a fourth-wall-breaking moment in which Astrid literally winks at the reader about an interaction with her mother that cracked me up.) I adore this book.

Recommend to: Fans of Raina Telgemeier… and pretty much any tween girl, actually. (Although I’d *love* to see some tween boys reading this one.)

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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2016 Reading Challenges Check-In 1/12

 

Here we are, a month into 2016, and I have not forgotten about my Reading Challenges for the year!

Let’s see where we stand. First up…

I Love Libraries RC BBN

I Love Libraries Challenge
hosted by Bea’s Book Nook

Goal: Middle Grades (18 books)

End of January Progress: 17% (target pace: 8%)

 

One month in, and I’ve read three library books. I haven’t managed to post a single review for any of them (we’ll come back to that later), but it’s still not a bad start.

Moving on to…

Mount TBR 2016Mt. TBR Challenge
hosted by My Reader’s Block

Goal: Pike’s Peak (12 books)

End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)

Right on target with one book from Mt. TBR. I’d kind of like to get ahead of this one, though, to be honest.

Okay, now for the embarrassing confessions.

NERC2016Button12016 Netgalley/Edelweiss Challenge
hosted by Falling For YA

Goal: Bronze Level (10 books)

End of January Progress: 0% (target pace: 8%)

Oh, dear. I did start a book from NetGalley. Did I finish it? No. Is my Nook sitting on my nightstand, looking sad and neglected? Yes.

 

Writing-Reviews-Challenge1
2016 Review Writing Challenge
hosted by DelightedReader.com

Goal: 50 Reviews

End of January Progress: 0% (target pace: 8%)

No reviews yet. I really have no excuse, either. That image is pretty spot-on.

So, how’s your 2016 reading going?

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Read Harder!

instabooksI am such a sucker for a reading challenge. They always sound like so much fun, and sometimes my TBR just inspires analysis paralysis, so a little guidance can come in handy.

(It’s not unlike the way the Sock Knitters Anonymous Sockdown monthly challenges have prodded me to actually knit certain patterns from my insanely long Ravelry queue.)

The latest reading challenge to catch my eye is hosted by Book Riot and called Read Harder. There are 24 slots on the game card, and 12 months to fill them in. Because I dearly love the planning phase of this kind of thing, I’ve already spent days thinking about what to read for which task. My very much not-written-in-stone plans so far:

  1. Read a horror book: The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin – I picked up a used copy a while ago and haven’t read it (and, yes, I already know the twist, but I’m going to read it anyway).
  2. Read a nonfiction book about science: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach – I love popular science books, so I’m taking the opportunity to read one that’s been on my list a good long time (since 2010, according to GoodReads).
  3. Read a collection of essays: Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson, although I do have Knox’s Essays in Satire on my shelf, too.
  4. 
Read a book out loud to someone else: Do picture books count? Because I read three of those out loud every Monday.
  5. Read a middle grade novel: I read a lot of middle grade books that come through the library, so something will come along for this one.
  6. 
Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography): Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices by Leonard S. Marcus
  7. Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: Nomansland by Lesley Hauge – which could also fit the feminist category
  8. Read a book originally published in the decade you were born: The Seven-Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer – this may well be the first book on this list I read, since I want to read it before diving into the 2015 BSJ Christmas Annual
  9. Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award: Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L. A. Meyer
  10. 
Read a book over 500 pages long: A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway
  11. 
Read a book under 100 pages: I’m not sure what this will be. Maybe a graphic novel.
  12. 
Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender: George by Alex Gino
  13. 
Read a book that is set in the Middle East: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
  14. 
Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
  15. 
Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman – going way before 1900 for this one, although it could also count for book set in the Middle East or book over 500 pages
  16. 
Read the first book in a series by a person of color: Either The Living by Matt de la Pena or Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low (Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez)
  17. Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, & Brooke A. Allen
  18. Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick – I think I’ll be watching the movie on DVD
  19. Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes: Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal – there’s something awfully meta about reading a book about a woman reading feminist works for this, isn’t there?
  20. 
Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are by Jack Kornfield
  21. Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide by Michael B. Oren
  22. 
Read a food memoir: Cooking as Fast as I Can: A Chef’s Story of Family, Food, and Forgiveness by Cat Cora – a book I meant to read a while back and didn’t get to
  23. Read a play: I honestly have no idea what I’m going to read for this one!
  24. Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness: Challenger Deep  by Neal Shusterman, which is already on my desk, conveniently enough

Are you joining in the challenge? Maybe I’ll actually complete this one!

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Sherlockiana for Kids

A while back, Chris Redmond asked me to put together an annotated bibliography of Sherlockian books for children and young adults. I’d been kicking around the idea of such a list, an update and expansion of Sally Sugarman’s list of Sherlock Holmes in Children’s Literature available on the Beacon Society site, so I jumped at the chance.

Jumped, it seems, right off a cliff and into a waterfall, since it took me an embarrassingly long time to actually do it. It’s possible he lapsed into a Watsonian faint upon finally receiving the draft, but he’s too much of a gentleman to say so.

The list, I’m very pleased to say, is now live at Sherlockian.Net: Books for Children.

While I was looking for titles, I ran into a bunch of out of print items (like the beloved Basil of Baker Street, which I just recently learned will be republished in May 2016 – I’m pretty sure my squee at that announcement was only audible to Toby), so I limited my focus to items currently in print or forthcoming.

I’m sure I missed something, so if you have a favorite children’s or young adult Sherlockian book that has not passed out of print, be sure to let me know.

And keep an eye on that list for updates. I’m currently reading Angela Misri’s Jewel of the Thames, and Paula Berinstein’s Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy is next on deck.

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Book Review: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1)

The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #1)The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would very much like to know why my mother named me “Enola,” which, backwards, spells alone.

Synopsis: Enola receives three fourteenth birthday gifts from her mother: a drawing kit, a copy of The Meanings of Flowers: Including Also Notes Upon the Messages Conveyed by Fans, Handkerchiefs, Sealing-Wax, and Postage Stamps, and a small hand-made book of ciphers. The same day, her mother vanishes without a trace, and Enola must contact her much older brothers in London – Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. Dismayed by the way the grounds of the estate (and Enola, in his opinion) have been left neglected, Mycroft makes plans to send his sister to boarding school for an education befitting a proper young lady of the late 1800s. Enola has no interest in such an education (or, for that matter, being a proper young lady), so she makes her own plan to escape to London and search for their mother on her own. As if eluding her brothers and keeping herself out of danger weren’t enough, she quickly finds herself tangled up in the mystery of a missing young Lord as well.

Review: With a smart and feisty teen-age heroine, this historical mystery is a pretty easy sell. Enola’s free-thinking ways stand out against her brothers’ much more of-the-time views on women. The period as well as the varied settings are evoked with strong, carefully chosen details. My only complaint is the choice of “Marquess” for the missing boy’s title, since that term is particularly confusing for American kids, but that’s a bit of a nitpick. The very real dangers faced by a young girl (and a young boy) in London are portrayed in an age-appropriate yet suspenseful way. This first volume of six wraps up one mystery while leaving enough dangling ends to make the reader want to have the next volume handy.

Recommend to: Historical and mystery fans ages 8 and up.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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